Your browser version is outdated. We recommend that you update your browser to the latest version.

What is Tai Chi?

To most people, tai chi is the hand form exercise that one often sees being performed in parks. Its full name is tai chi chuan (chuan means fist). Tai chi chuan is a zero-impact exercise, comprising gentle moves, suitable for nearly everyone at every fitness level, including most persons with physical limitations. No pain—no gain has no place in tai chi. Unlike other exercise forms where faster-faster and harder-harder are workout mantras, in tai chi chuan, every movement is slow, graceful and purposeful. Tai chi is not just an exercise; it is as much about the mind as it is the body.

The medical establishment is generally glowing about the benefits of practising tai chi chuan. Study after study has proved it to be valuable for establishing and maintaining good health and as a therapy for many ailments. The benefits include: better general health, lower cholesterol, increased immunity, decreased lower back pain, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, relief from asthma, relief from some forms of arthritic pain, a means of overcoming some Parkinson's disease symptoms, better digestion, increased muscle strength and flexibility, and better balance. Tai chi is also good rehabilitation for injuries and strains, and for calming the mind and decreasing the risk of depression.

Tai chi chuan originated in China as a martial art related to kung fu around the 14th century. Since its emergence, it has evolved continuously into many styles. By far, the most widely known are Chen style and Yang style. Chen style is the oldest style still commonly practised. It is somewhat martial in its approach, with lower stances, significant body coiling, some fast movements and foot stomping. While Yang style is a direct descendent of Chen style, it is slower, with larger, flowing moves, a more upright posture and a slighter bend to the legs. It is by far the most common style of tai chi taught in the West.

In the 1970s, Moy Lin Shin (1931–1998), a Taoist monk, moved to Canada, where he developed a new style, primarily derived from Yang style. He simplified and standardized many of the tai chi moves, especially the foot angles and hip positions. Today it has two branches, Taoist Tai Chi®, which is available only from the Taoist Taichi Society, and Moy style, which is similar, but is evolving in the public domain. Mr. Moy's style is the most common one taught in Canada.

In addition to tai chi chuan, there are also forms of tai chi that use sticks of various length, balls of various sizes, fans, swords and sabres. As with tai chi chuan, the emphasis is on solo performance, not combat.